The Planting of Seeds by Gavin King
There really is a lot of seemingly nonsensical sayings in Taiji that Sifu’s seem to delight in repeating over, and over, and over....
“The head should be erect, ‘As if suspended from Heaven’...”, Steve said as he tipped my chin whilst kind of pulling the back of my head up which straightend out the back of my neck. If you picture someone with a ponytail having it yanked upwards and the effect that would have on their posture, you’d be pretty close to how I looked.
With my head ‘suspended’ I moved through a sequence called ‘Repulse Monkey’. This sequence has a tricky back step that is preceded with a downward strike with the forearm called Peng. To achieve this we do what in Taiji we call ‘Softening’. Well when I say ‘We’ I mean those that can actually do Taiji, with me, well I don’t really ‘Soften’ as I was about to find out,
“That’s a ‘Bend’ not a ‘Soften’!” Steve said as he corrected my posture.
“You’re ‘Bending’ not ‘Softening’! You lean down into your strike which is poking your chin forwards and sticking your arse out!” Steve clarified as he mimicked my posture...which looked a little like Groucho Marx probably would’ve done if he’d done Taiji!
Head erect, concentrating on ‘Softening’ and not poking out parts of my body unnecessarily I tried again.
“You’re sticking you’re bloody arse out! ‘Soften’ down. You’re rushing it and missing out on the process. Remember, ‘Feel every inch of the movement’!” Steve giggled patiently.
With a huff I tried again.
“THAT’S ‘BENDING’!” he blasted as he burst out laughing. I gave a big huff and stamped around the hall a bit.
“Come here, I’ll show you why we ‘Soften’ and not ‘Bend’!” Steve said beckoning me over for an impromptu Push Hands session. This usually means I’m about to go flying into something solid in the hall...
Steve had me push into him as he ‘Peng’d’ me. The first one was gentle and redirected my push down towards his feet. The second was decidedly less pleasant,
“You can also get a nice ‘phwap’ off this too...” Steve said as he rolled his forearm down into my arm which numbed it to the bone.
Steve gave me a few gentle pushes to give me the idea and said, “Now put some power into it!”
Immediately I leant forward to put the power into the strike. I was ‘Bending’ again.
“Yep I know I was ‘Bending’....” I preempted my correction.
“Yeah, but more importantly you rushed process. Remember the ‘softening’ process starts in the feet, then the ankles, the knees, the hips, etc, etc...that’s where the power comes from. When you bend you rush the process and miss huge amounts of power. But don’t worry too much about it, it takes years to train the body to move like this. We’ve planted the idea, that’s enough for now!”, Steve said concluding the lesson.
Planted the idea? That’s enough for now? How? I don’t need an idea I need to be able to do the sodding move. That’s another thing Sifu’s like to say a lot, “We’ve planted the idea!” Bull poop. I have absolutely no idea what this allegedly planted idea is supposed to be, that’s why I can’t do it! I was left to make the long drive home with my head spinning as it tries to make sense of the information I’ve just received.
There’s a regular pattern that I slip into after a Taiji lesson. For the first part of the journey I obsess about understanding the lesson. I’m usually so preoccupied that I miss my turn off on the motorway. This usually kicks in the second stage of the journey where the dust starts to settle. By the time I get out of the car my confusion seems to slip into the background and the spinning in my head slows down to a dull whirl as things begin to calm down.
A couple of days after my lesson I had one of my regular training partners round for a session. Rob is a former champion Kick Boxer and always gives me something to think about...usually in a very practical way. Rob’s professional boxing experience means he’s a demon to fight when his on his toes. I prefer to be up close and personal, so I can dominate once I close him down and clinch him up. Trouble is that in order to clinch up I need to cover ‘No mans land’ which almost always means eating a few shots before I can get hold of him. This sparring session was going to be no different.
As soon as we gloved off he was on his toes and I was on the chase. On my very first attempt on closing the distance I ate a short left hook that jolted all the way through my skull. I managed to clinch but this was out of desperation rather than design. Over the next couple of rounds Rob kept on landing that left hook although being a gentleman he started pulling them. After three rounds of being caught I asked Rob to show me how he was landing the shots.
“As you're trying to close me down you seem a little too eager and you’re leading with your head. It’s presenting your chin when you come forwards leaving you open for the hook!”, Rob explained as he showed me what I was doing.
As soon as Rob moved I realized he was pulling me up on exactly the same thing Steve was only a couple of days previously. I was ‘Bending’ again!
Once this realization clicked I felt my head tilt into place as if Steve himself was there making the correction. My head and back stood erect ‘As if suspended by heaven’! This removed the slouch from my posture and the raising of my head automatically tucked my chin in and engaged the muscles in my neck.
We had another move round and the movement from my head seemed to correspond with my footwork. I still caught a few shots but found I was able to ride them better and even bounce back with a few counters.
After we finished Rob said that my head was moving a lot faster and chin had stopped ‘Hanging out in the wind”....
“It’s funny that first shot you caught me with really had me seeing stars, really really jolted my skull. Once I sorted the posture out the shots you caught me with felt a lot duller.”, I mentioned to Rob.
“There’s an old saying in Boxing about ‘Rattling the stone in the tin can’, which is what we try to do to our opponents brain inside the skull. The more of a ‘rattle’ we get the better the K.O is going to be! That’s why we go for the whiplash of the head. My old Coach used to talk about ‘Shrugging shots off to your feet’ and when you left your chin out like that you had no chance of riding the shot....coz there was nowhere for it to go!” explained Rob.
“Steve is obsessed with sending stuff to the feet and having the body structure in place to be able to channel energy down to the ground. In Taiji we’d probably describe that rattling of the brain as ‘Leaving the energy in the head’. By this we’d mean that the force from the strike is absorbed fully in the head. In fact Steve was only saying the other day that when I stick my chin out, or ‘Bend’ as he puts it, I disconnect myself from my feet. Looking back at your Coaches shrugging off shots, there’s no way I could get to my feet...”
“That’s why we try to catch people when they are moving!”, excitedly interrupted Rob.
“...again he is always talking about attacking people during the gaps in their movements. Specifically how they clumsily shift their weight around...”, I even more excitedly interrupted him.
“....in Boxing we talk about ‘Hitting on the half beat!’” Rob laughed as he butted in yet again.
For about another five minutes we continued to spew off all these ideas that were floating around in our heads. The little gems of wisdom imparted by the teachers from our respective disciplines seemed to be discussing exactly the same basic concepts. Also, despite the difference in the language used, the wisdom contained within those ideas was uncannily similar. Not only that, but the words used, although simple, transmit very deep concepts if put into the correct context.
One thing I’m beginning to understand about the Taiji style of transmitting its information is that it doesn’t always initially make sense. For my Western mind the nonsensical ramblings of Steve often seem overtly mystical and too metaphorical to be of any practical use. I have desire for instant understanding and become majorly narked when I can’t conceive the ‘idea’ Steve is trying to plant. Being told that the simple planting of the idea is sufficient often infuriates me further. But even here there is a sense of subtle teaching at work.
The concept of ‘planting’ an idea hints that it will grow from nothing to something of substance, if given time. This realization however does little to stem the annoyance experienced when we are first initiated with the system of ideas that is Taiji.
I think that people often view the study of Taiji as blind faith, but I’m beginning to consider that it’s more a case of diligent practice and patience. This planting of ideas like seeds, I believe, is a fundamental concept to comprehend in order progress through it’s study. Our craving for immediate understanding often dictates the worth we place on concepts and theories. Like planting a seed the environmental conditions need to be in place in order for it to flourish and grow. Also the manner in which the seed is sown is vitally important as well. I’m beginning to notice that Steve is very deliberate in how he plants the ideas in my mind, and more often than not he is not present when they blossom. What was meaningless when I was first given it actually turns out to be a key point to further my understanding. Like with seeds, ideas are worthless without the conditions for them to flourish. This leaves me pondering how many seeds are planted by those that don’t know how to sow them? Perhaps that is why my art is so misrepresented nowadays?
Edited by Cord (01/17/08 02:19 AM)